[EXP] PLANED, working with communities to deliver local integrated development in Pembrokeshire
Type: Success story
Date of writing: August 1, 2011
Author(s) of this page: Delia Sambeteanu, Michael Dower
PLANED is a community-led development organisation aiming to improve the quality of life for rural communities in the county of Pembrokeshire, in south-west Wales.
Its activities are focusing on:
Community engagement and support
Thematic programmes and networks
Location, Background and Objectives
PLANED is a community-led development organisation aiming to improve the quality of life for rural communities in the county of Pembrokeshire, in south-west Wales. This is a mainly rural County, with a long and complex coast, fine landscape and a wealth of natural and cultural heritage. It has a population of about 115,000 people, many living in villages and small towns. The economy is based mainly on agriculture and tourism, plus some commercial fishing, manufacturing industry, ports, oil installations and defence establishments. It has been an Objective 1 area, eligible for support from EU Structural Funds.
PLANED’s predecessor body, TCRI (Taf and Cleddau Rural Initiative) was set up in 1987, following the success of a local campaign to save a 19th century house in the small market town of Narberth and convert it into what is now a thriving community centre. At that time, the district had suffered decline due to the closing down of the cattle market and other businesses. TCRI was focused on a limited area around the Taf and Cleddau rivers. In 1991, it evolved into SPARC (South Pembrokeshire Action for Rural Communities), with an expanded area, and SPARC became and remained an Action Group within the LEADER initiative of the European Union. In 2001, SPARC evolved into PLANED, with its area further expanded to cover the whole of the County, and PLANED has acted as a LEADER group within the more recent phases of that initiative.
These three sequential organisations had the same Director, Joan Asby, until her retirement in 2008, when she was succeeded by her deputy Jane Howells. There is thus a striking continuity in the conceptual approach, which is focused on helping communities to take their future well-being into their own hands. PLANED strongly supports the rationale stated in Axis 4 of the Rural Development Programme for Wales that “sustainable regeneration of communities is best achieved through the direct involvement of communities themselves“. It is committed to a fully integrated and sustainable approach to rural development.
PLANED is a non-profit-making company and a registered charity. Its Board consists of representatives nominated by community associations, and from the public sector. PLANED works throughout Pembrokeshire as a rural development agency. It acts as an intermediary, in order to facilitate partnership between local communities, the public sector, voluntary partners and special interest groups in undertaking locally integrated development. It encourages the widest possible participation of local people in improving their own quality of life. It identifies sources of funding – from the EU, national government and elsewhere – and acts as the channel for applying these funds to the needs of local communities.
Staff and finance. PLANED has a staff of 20 people, based at its headquarters in Narberth, working very flexibly on projects and community liaison throughout the county. Its activities are financed through Axis 4 of the Rural Development for Wales, plus funding from the Welsh Government (for example through the Rural Community Action programme) and other public and charitable sources (including the Heritage Lottery and the Big Lottery Fund) for its various programmes. It also has rental income from the series of workshops which surround its offices in Narberth.
PLANED’s activities may be described under two broad headings :
Community engagement and support
Thematic programmes and networks
Community engagement and support
Summary. Over the years since 1987, PLANED and its predecessors have created and evolved a special way of engaging communities and building partnerships for local development. Each community is encouraged and helped to establish a Community Forum, open to all local organisations and individuals. The Community Forum identifies local needs, opportunities, and priorities, which are set out in an integrated Community Action Plan. This Plan is then implemented by the Forum, using its own energy and resources, supported by funds and expertise from outside the community which PLANED helps to secure.
Process. How is this done ? In each community, PLANED takes the initiative. Its staff first seek to know the community by meeting with community councils, voluntary organisations, local businesses and key stakeholders. Visioning Workshops are then organised, at which local people focus together on the character and needs of their community, using methodologies offered by PLANED. They do SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; conduct a community and skills audit; and create a record of the community’s unique and distinctive identity. PLANED’s staff collate all this information, and then work with the community to produce an integrated Community Action Plan.
Action Plan. The Action Plan provides information about the whole community; identifies local needs and opportunities; outlines the changes that the community wants to see; and identifies which organisations, within and outside the community, may help to implement these changes. Typically, a Community Forum is then established, as the main driver of action to implement the Action Plan, with working groups to take forward specific projects.
Community Forum. PLANED’s continuing support is then focused through the Community Forum, and on the projects identified in the Action Plan. It may offer financial support from Axis 4 or other funds, especially for projects that contribute to local regeneration and economic growth. It may introduce the community to external partners. It may help in implementing projects, while making plain that ownership of the project remains with the community. The long-term viability of projects is ensured by the rigorous approach taken by community groups to planning and management : for example, building works are informed by studies, surveys, plans and other documents carried out by groups. Moreover, the success of the projects is ensured by the commitment of communities, supported where relevant by external finance.
Example. The coastal village of Saundersfoot, with a population of about 3,000, provides an example of this process. Its first Action Plan was produced in 1992, with help from SPARC. Under this plan, the community worked with the local authorities to enhance the traffic calming, signposting, street lighting and landscaping of the village centre; produced a historic trail leaflet, and installed interpretive panels and plaques to mark places named in the leaflet; and started the process of creating a playground. In 2000, SPARC organised a ‘Future Search’ weekend, which led to the creation of the Community Forum and an updated Action Plan. Since then, the playground has been completed, further highway improvements have been made; a sensory garden has been created; and plans are currently being discussed (within four different working groups) for a complete rebuilding of the main Community Hall, development of affordable housing for local young people, creation of a Heritage and Exhibition Centre, and potential wet-weather facilities for visitors to the village. The Saundersfoot Energy Group’s plans to build the first community-owned wind turbine in Pembrokeshire are well advanced.
Area Plans. PLANED’s role in this kind of rolling programme of action at local level is to encourage, to advise, to offer (where relevant) direct funding from its own Axis 4 or other funds community, or to point the community towards other sources of funding. It will only fund projects which fall within the Local Action Plan. In recent years, it has addressed the issue of how to articulate and support projects that are geographically wider than a single community. For this purposes, it has worked with groups of local communities to create 12 Hub Groups and Hub Area Plans across Pembrokeshire. This enables neighbouring communities to work together on an area basis; and it allows ideas and experience to be shared between communities, both in a geographic area, and more widely between Hub Groups as part of the thematic initiatives which are described below.
County Forum. At County level, PLANED has established a Community Consultative Forum, in order to bring together Community Forums and Associations to share experience and good practice, along with Community Councils and other agencies. The Forum meets twice a year, and is an opportunity for communities to discuss challenges and solutions across the county.
Sustainability. PLANED is acutely aware of the rising concerns about sustainability in Pembrokeshire and the world. It committed itself some years ago to helping local people to understand sustainable development and the need to lessen our impact on the planet - as individuals, communities and nations - by reducing consumption, using fewer resources and behaving more responsibly towards our environment. It launched the Towards One Planet Living (TOPL) project. This is designed to build the capacity of individuals and groups to take part in conceiving solutions for sustainable living, and to build these into their planning and development of community projects. It draws upon a ‘Sustainable Toolkit’ and other elements within a ‘Route map for Sustainable Communities’. One such element is a ‘Plugging the Leaks’ process, whereby communities consider whether the local economy is a ‘leaky bucket’ and how they can prevent money leaking away from the area by supporting local businesses. In these ways, the Community Action Plans increasingly incorporate sustainability criteria and form a solid foundation to give projects the best chance of success for completion and also in funding applications. Another output from the TOPL project is the creation of the ‘Route Map for Sustainable Communities’ – a compilation of best practice guides, proven PLANED methodologies and training. This provides a valuable resource for both communities and the organisations that support them.
Thematic programmes and networks
PLANED’s second main type of activity lies in identifying and articulating themes which can act as the focus for development activity in many communities. The point of this is that specific themes – such as agriculture, energy or military history – appeal to different groups and to different funding bodies. Moreover, they cut across local geographic boundaries, and offer potential for cooperation and exchange of ideas between different communities, and indeed between different regions and countries. This potential may best be pursued through the creation and activity of formal or informal networks.
PLANED’s approach to thematic programmes and networks is illustrated below by reference to sustainable agriculture, energy, environment, heritage and tourism, business support, and training.
Sustainable agriculture. PLANED set up the Pembrokeshire Sustainable Agriculture Network as a forum for farmers and landowners to discuss ideas and develop opportunities relating to sustainable agriculture. The Network promotes farming practices that protect and enhance soil structure, biodiversity and landscape, adapt to climate change, recycle waste, and produce or use renewable energy. It promotes diversification of farm enterprises, and cooperation between farmers and other elements in the county’s economy, such as those focused on food, tourism and energy. Since the Network was set up in 2006, over 50 seminars, workshops or farm visits have been organised, with a focus on sustainable agricultural practices and on the advice and financial support that is available to farmers.
PLANED has also set up the Pembrokeshire Community Growing Network, through which it supports groups such as allotment associations who are involved in direct cultivation by citizens of their own food. The network enables these groups to share good practice, and to increase their knowledge and skills. It organises open days and training sessions, and provides advice for the member groups on sources of funding and support.
Energy. PLANED encourages communities to investigate the potential to develop alternative forms of energy. It has established the Community Energy Network, which enables community groups to learn from others who have developed energy projects, to share ideas and expertise with other groups and to develop their own projects. To help this network, PLANED has organised events such as a Web Seminar with Community Energy Scotland, a workshop on ‘Returns on Renewables’, and a visit to see wind turbines in action. It has also raised awareness of alternative energy issues and opportunities among the farming community through the Sustainable Agriculture Network.
Environment. PLANED’s project ‘Valuing the Environment’ aims to help communities to develop the skills they need in order to design and implement practical projects that enhance the environment of the county, and which thereby improve quality of life and may extend the opportunities for sustainable tourism and recreation. These practical projects appear within Community Action Plans. The project includes a range of training and workshop events, organised by PLANED with the help of experts, to extend people’s understanding of the environment. Topics include wildlife gardening, willow weaving, energy auditing, funding for community environmental groups etc. Environmental awareness is also promoted through the ‘Wildlife on your Patch’ project. This enables local people to find out more about the wildlife living in their neighbourhood. Local wildlife experts help them to discover the common, interesting or rare plants and animals living in their area, to see the nature conservation activity that is being done, and to understand how they can help. The project is a partnership between PLANED, the Countryside Council for Wales and the Pembrokeshire Local Biodiversity Partnership. They stress the importance of small wildlife patches in connecting habitats across the landscape and thus maintaining the rich diversity of wildlife at local and national level.
Heritage and tourism. Sustainable development is also promoted through PLANED’s work with heritage and tourism. The focus is on increasing the enjoyment of Pembrokeshire for both local people and visitors. The aim is to enhance the heritage and environment of the county by adopting good environmental practices, and by safeguarding and interpreting the rich heritage and wildlife of the county. PLANED has helped more than 50 communities to research and celebrate their heritage through the Research, Interpretation and Celebration of Community History and Heritage (RICCHH) project. This project, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Cambria Archaeology, offers training on how to research local history, and technical and financial support for production by communities of heritage leaflets and information panels. The leaflets are available on the Experience Pembrokeshire website, which is a valuable resource for sustainable tourism. PLANED has also supported communities with the research and development of a Military History Guide to Pembrokeshire, “From Civil War to Cold War”. A group of enthusiasts is is currently working on the “Industrial Past of Pembrokeshire”, researching the history of the different industries of Pembrokeshire, such as brickworks, mills, electricity generation, coal, ironworks and mining. PLANED organises expert talks and tours for heritage groups, in order to increase the knowledge of local people and to stimulate their research into all aspects of Pembrokeshire. The results of this research into the heritage of communities can also be used to improve the experience of visitors. PLANED’s “Sense of Place” initiative aims to support communities to develop projects and activities that celebrate local distinctiveness. The “Sense of Place” tours are aimed at increasing knowledge, within the tourism sector, of what makes Pembrokeshire distinctive and special.
Sustainability is also promoted by PLANED through its ownership of the Greenways Holidays Bureau, which aims to encourage sustainable tourism in the county. The Bureau plans tailor-made walking and cycling itineraries for visitors to Pembrokeshire, using farm or country guesthouses where guests find a warm welcome and a good base for exploring the county. The Bureau has close links with travel agents in Germany and the Netherlands. PLANED uses the Bureau to market-test niche holiday packages, focused (for example) on military history or specialist nature study.
PLANED set up, and supports, the Festival and Events Network in Pembrokeshire. This brings together the organisers of festivals and events across the county to share information and expertise. It runs a training course on management of events, and meetings to keep its members up-to-date with changing legislation. Well-organised community festivals and events can celebrate and promote a unique sense of place, for example a community’s heritage, culture or local products, and can attract tourists.
Business support. In the broader field of the county’s economy, PLANED helped with the setting up of the Pembrokeshire Business Network, and provides organisational support. The network helps businesses make contact with each other and with potential customers and suppliers through networking events, information seminars and workshops held around the county. The topics covered are varied, such as time management, internet marketing, or health and safety. It also acts as a lobbying body on issues affecting businesses in the county.
PLANED’s community engagement work resulted in the establishment of a number of local business groups. These groups organise festivals, meetings with guest speakers, and sessions at which businesses can sign up to leading UK internet directories; and produce information leaflets about their areas. PLANED provides support for business networks as part of the Enterprise Hub project funded under the Rural Development Programme. PLANED also manages the Pembrokeshire Enterprise Network, which consists of representatives of all business support organisations working in the county : its aim is to ensure that the support available is meeting the needs of the business community, and that members are kept updated on all members’ activities.
Training. PLANED organised taster courses that encouraged people to increase their skills, within a project called Community And Skills Hub (CASH). The range and variety of courses were in response to the needs identified by communities, partners and business groups as being essential to meet gaps in local skills. Examples are courses in carpentry, plumbing and traditional countryside skills such as hedge laying or coppicing. Where possible, courses were arranged in local centres to cut the travelling distance for participants.
Transnational exchanges. PLANED has many years’ experience of working with LEADER Groups and others across Europe, hosting study visits, sharing best practice, and leading cross-border projects on heritage, sustainable tourism, agriculture, business etc. It is seen as an exemplar of community engagement.
Challenges / Perspectives
PLANED’s programme depends heavily on public funds, which it has secured through the Welsh government, various government agencies, EU funds including EAFRD and ERDF, and local authorities. Prospects for continuity of such funding are now much more gloomy than (say) three years ago, because of the current financial crisis and cuts in central government funds, the closure of some government agencies (e.g. Wales Tourist Board and Welsh Development Agency) and pressure on local authority finances. PLANED is now obliged to find the matching money on axis 4 funds from its own resources. It faces competition from its own local authority, Pembrokeshire County Council, in its application to act as a Local Action Group under the Fisheries programme. Its long-term future will depend greatly upon the shape of the EU Funds from 2014 onwards and the way that these Funds are applied in Wales.
In parallel to these central uncertainties are those local ones that are inherent in a process that depends upon communal energy and initiative within Pembrokeshire’s many communities. This communal effort relies upon voluntary input by hundreds of people, and notably by those who are willing to lead at local level. There is need for constant refreshment of personnel, drawing upon people of all ages, young and old. PLANED’s quiet but positive support will remain vital in this process.
Underlying these two types of uncertainty – the institutional and the local – is the potential fragility of the community, the economy and the environment of Pembrokeshire. It could lose its young people by out-migration, see its economy dwindle through foreign competition and the ‘leaky bucket’, or witness another disastrous oil spill or other environmental disaster. These possibilities are full justification for PLANED’s continuing activity, and for the periodic updating of its own operational plans and of the Community Action Plans of its many towns and villages.
From a European perspective, PLANED offers a remarkable example of integrated community-led development. Its structure of partnership and participative democracy at two geographic levels – the county, and the community – is unique in the United Kingdom and rare in Europe, matched only (perhaps) in Sweden, Finland and Estonia. It places a strong and very practical emphasis on integrated development and on sustainability, as widely interpreted. Its bottom-up commitment, with full ownership of developmental action by each local community, provides significant assurance that projects are well-founded and likely to survive. The continuity of the effort, over more than 20 years, matches the reality (not always accepted by politicians and officials) that local development is a long-term process. The EU, the Welsh government and local authorities should bear this positive example in mind as they shape future policies for development.
Source of the information:
PLANED website: www.planed.org.uk
Joan Asby, Former Directoir of TCRI, SPARC and PLANED
Jane Howells, Director of PLANED
The Old School, Narberth, Pembrokeshire
SA67 7DU, Wales, United Kingdom
Scale of intervention : Regional
Keywords: participatory approach, empowerment of rural communities, local partnership, integrated rural development, renewable energy, diversification of economic activities, cultural heritage, conservation and management of natural resources, Community Led Local Development (CLLD), Leader approach, rural entrepreneurship, sustainable agriculture, collective approach, concertation, territorial project